An Open Forum with Dr. Christopher Ames. Recorded April 2 by WOU Digital Production Services.
MONMOUTH – An undergraduate degree is more than just an accumulation of enough credits, it’s a holistic experience of emotional, intellectual and personal growth.
That was a recurring theme for Christopher Ames at an open forum Thursday afternoon in the Pacific Room at Werner University Center.
Ames, 58, is one of four finalists for Western Oregon University’s new president, to replace President Mark Weiss when he retires at the end of June. Ames is the second to tour campus and meet students, staff, faculty and the public.
WOU is in a better position than other universities to prosper because it is already addressing the holistic educational experience, Ames said.
Western’s successes in bridging the gap for under-served students – first generation, low income and disabled – as well as things such as Tuition Promise, small student-to-teacher ratios and a residential campus are all examples of that commitment, he noted.
Ames has experience in both private and public universities. While he enjoyed the focus on teaching undergraduate students at private institutions, he became disenchanted with the atmosphere.
Ames said private universities are pricing themselves out of existence and racing for a finite number of students with 4.0 grade-point averages.
“The thing that was most troubling to me is that we taught so few students,” Ames said.
He likes Western’s mission to provide a quality educational experience to a variety of people, from international to low-income, first-generation students.
“We need to break the tie between family income and academic success,” Ames said.
Ames is the vice president of academic affairs at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., a town with a population of 1,734 people, as of the 2010 census.
A small university plays a big role in its community, Ames said.
“It’s the largest employer, a real engine for economic development,” he said. Universities also provide green spaces and cultural events, he said.
In other towns he has worked, people retired to that city because of the university.
“They knew there would be recitals and performances,” Ames said. “It was a transforming thing to go to the farmers market and run into the chair of a department and also the mayor. If I needed (something), I knew I could find the city manager at a bar called Andy’s.”
Ames said public universities are facing declining state funding across the nation.
Some ways he has worked to increase revenue at other colleges are already underway at Western, such as recruiting international students.
Another thing he said could increase revenue is more partnerships with local and state government. For example, at Shepherd, he said the geographic information systems program works with local government agencies.
“We’re looking at seeing if we can get some of our faculty doing contract work with SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) nutritional education programs,” Ames said, noting that Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., receives roughly $2 million a year from contracts with the government.
If you attended the presentation, give feedback to Western Oregon here.
Margaret Madden will be on campus Monday. She will answer questions at an open forum from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Rice Auditorium followed by a community reception from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the foyer. Rex Fuller will visit campus Tuesday.
Fernando Delgado toured WOU Wednesday.
Check www.polkio.com for details on Madden’s forum Monday night.
Polk County Itemizer-Observer
by Emily Mentzer